THE "AONACH TAILTEANN.
THE TAILTEANN GAMES
HISTORY AND ANCIENT
By T. H. NALLY
THE TALBOT PRESS LIMITED
T. FISHER UNWIN, LIMITED
Introduction ... ... ... ... ... 7
The " Aonach Tailteann " and the Tailteann Games ... 11
The Aonach, a Public National Assembly ... ... 16
The Games ... ... ... ..,. ... 21
The Origin of the Tailteann Games ... ... ... 26
An Ancient Manuscript Record ... ... ... 30
Finn MacCool at the Aonach ... ... ... 36
The Marriage Market ... ... ... ... 42
Other Festive Assemblies in Ancient Ireland ... ... 47
Aonach Carman ... ... ... ... ... 48
Aonach Colmain ... ... ... ... ... 57
I. The Irish Origin of the Olympic Games ... ... 61
II. The Marathon Race ... ... ... ... 66
III. The Sport Records of the World ... ... 70
Championships. 1921 75
THIS story of the historic games of Ancient
Ireland has been compiled with a view to
familiarising the Irish people with a knowledge,
however imperfect, of their ancient greatness in
the Athletic World.
It is surely something to be proud of to know
that our country has played a great and noble
part in the Past, not merely in leading all the
nations of Europe in intellectual culture and
the higher arts of civilization, but also in the no
less important province of physical development.
Most Irish people know how distinguished
their nation once was in the world of letters,
when the great men of the world flocked to our
shores for light and learning, but few of our
people to-day, we fear, can claim a knowledge
even as intimate with our ancient history as that
shown by an eminent foreign writer who states :
" Indeed, so far as history is concerned, Ireland
boasts of by far the most ancient organised sports
known, i.e., the Tailteann Games, or (as he also
calls them) Lugnasad."
It is surely something to our credit to have
even this much admitted by a hostile writer, who,
at the same time, confesses that anything even
vaguely approaching organised sports was quite
unknown in England until long after the
Norman invasion, "when the nobles, for the first
time, devoted themselves to the chase and the
joust, while the people played games of ball on
the village green."
The chroniclers of succeeding centuries are
silent concerning any athletic exercises more
exciting in England than mere training for war.
It is true, it is recorded that Henry V. (A.D. 1413)
and two of his lords ran fast enough to catch a
wild buck in an open park; but Edward III.,
a little earlier, actually prohibited weight-putting
So small was the attention given to physical
development and sports generally in England in
A.D. 1509, that Richard Pace, the Secretary of
Henry VIII., advised the sons of the noblemen
to " leave study and learning to the children of
the meaner people and practise their sports."
In Ireland, On the other hand, learning and
physical exercises went hand-in-hand from times
long beyond chronological history.
It is with a desire to recall such facts to the
minds of our race that this little book has been
written, in the hope that it may help to awaken
once more a deeper interest in our glorious past,
and assist, in a small way, in restoring some of
the ancient athletic fame achieved by the
T. H. N.
THE TA1LTEANN GAMES
Their Origin, History, and Ancient
THE adoption of the ancient historic title,
" Aon.dc CxMlcexxnn," as a suitable name to
characterise Ireland's great National Festival this
year, and to distinguish it from all others of its
kind in any part of the world, was not only a
happy inspiration, but, at the present juncture,
a singularly appropriate one.
As originally established, away back in the
nebulous mists that envelop the outer edges of
chronological history almost two thousand years
before the birth of Christ the Tailteann Games
were primarily instituted as a tribute in honour
of the Illustrious Dead.
The Antiquity of the Irish Games.
The earliest authentic records of these great
National Games, contained in our ancient
manuscripts, are associated with the death and
burial of the renowned Queen Tailte, wife of
King Eochaidh Mac Ere, the last Firbolg mon-
arch of Erinn.
She was the learned daughter of Mag Mor, a
distinguished king of Spain, who reigned in the
nineteenth century before the Incarnation; and
her husband, Eochaidh (Aughy), was slain in
the historic Battle of Moytura, fought between
the Firbolgs and the invading colony of Tuatha
De Danaan, on the plains of Cong, in County
Mayo, in 1896 B.C.
This, it may be remarked, is one of the oldest,
if not actually the very oldest, events of which
authentic records exist in ancient Irish history.
As, however, the mere mention of such bald
and otherwise uninteresting dates conveys no
adequate idea of their antiquity to the mind of
the ordinary reader, it may serve to awaken some
additional interest in the subject if we associate
them with some of the great outstanding events
in the contemporary history of the world.
Other Historic Dates compared with Tailteann.
It will, no doubt, surprise some of our readers
to learn that the Tailteann Games were instituted
and celebrated in ancient Ireland more than a
thousand years before the misty, if not mythical,
Romulus is supposed to have yoked his oxen
and ploughed his legendary furrow around the
great circle within which the ancient city of
Rome, with its many Caesars and wonderful
history, was subsequently to arise to fame.
Nor was the far-famed city of Troy, of which
Homer sings in his Iliad, and the story of which
has proved an interesting but tearful task to
many of us in our schooldays, yet in existence.
The Siege of Troy did not occur, as recent
research has proved, till more than seven hun-
dred years after Tailte was laid to rest in her
mighty Mur on the Loch Crew Hills.
The famous Olympian Games, of which we
hear so much from time to time, and which, at
best, were but a pale reflex of those of Tailteann,
were not yet instituted in the sea-girt province
of Elis, in ancient Greece, till more than four
hundred years after King Lughaidh Lamhfada,
or Lewy of the Long Hand, summoned "All the
amen of Erinn " to celebrate the Tailteann
ceremonies on the plains of Royal Meath.
Even the Kingdom of Athens itself, subse-
quently so famed for its learning, its art, and its
culture, was not yet founded by Cecrops and his
Egyptian colony although it existed long before
the Olympian Games began till at least more
than three hundred years after the woods of
Tailteann resounded to the rush and roar of
Irish chariots in their thunderous contests for the
Still further away in the dim ages of the
past and perhaps this may illustrate the
antiquity of our athletic festival better than all
the rest the games of Tailteann were celebrated
in Ireland some three hundred and twenty-five
years before Pharaoh's daughter discovered
Moses on the banks of the Nile.
Unlike the preposterous mythological gods
and goddesses, to whom, for want of more
inspiring ideals, the Ancient Greeks instituted
their games and dedicated their temples, Tailte
was a real personage, an ordinary human being,
endowed with ordinary human attributes and
high accomplishments. She was no impossible
myth, such as Minerva, Juno, Jupiter, or
imaginary beings of that kind.
During her lifetime this distinguished Irish
queen had taken the trouble to select a particular
spot in which she wished to be buried. It was
located on the side of a hill, covered with dense
forest; but because of its sunlit and beautiful
situation she had chosen it, and her husband, in
compliance with her wishes, had it cleared of
the timber. It took a host of stalwart men
nearly a year to accomplish the task.
In this spot Tailte desired her Leath, or tomb,
should be made, her Cuba, or public lamenta-
tions, recited, and her Nosad, or funeral rites and
games, duly celebrated, according to the
recognised customs of the country. There was
nothing superhuman about such ordinary facts,
from which we learn the customs of the people,
and how distinguished personages were honoured
in Ireland, three thousand years ago.
THE AONACH, A PUBLIC NATIONAL
The institution of an Aonach, or Fair, as it is
sometimes misleadingly called, at any particular
place, in early pagan times, arose from the burial
there of some great or renowned personage, such
as a distinguished king or queen, an illustrious
warrior chieftain, or a famous man of learning.
On such an occasion a great national assembly
was called together, usually by order of the king,
to celebrate the funeral rites of the deceased, and
at the same time to avail of the gathering to
promulgate any improvements or extensions in
the established laws of the nation.
When summoned by the Ard Righ, or High
King, such assemblies were of the greatest
national importance, and as such were attended
by all the minor kings, chiefs and nobles, as well
as by vast multitudes of the people from all parts
of the five provinces.
THE THREE FUNCTIONS OF THE AONACH.
As a national institution the Aonach fulfilled
three important public functions in the lives of
the people. Its first object was, to do honour
to the illustrious dead; secondly, to promulgate
laws; and, finally, to entertain the people.
The First Function.
The first object was carried out with great
solemnity and impressive ceremonies, in which
all present played their allotted parts, as strictly
prescribed by ancient custom and the law. The
Cuba, or mourning chants, were sung by speci-
ally invited guests. The Cepdg, which was a
strange and beautiful dirge, was sung by the
druids and poets attached to the person or court
of the deceased. It was initiated by the Chief
Druid and taken up and improvised by each
singer in turn, and recounted the family
history, recited the personal exploits, and
lamented the loss of the departed. It was no
ordinary expression of regret ; and its composition
and intonation evinced an art requiring much
study, cultivation and practice. Few who have
ever heard this weird lament, even as it is sung,
or chanted, to-day, can ever forget it.*
After the Cepdg was sung by the clruids and
poets assembled around the bier, some very weird
religious ceremonies were gone through. Next
morning the body was transferred to an inflam-
mable pile, and at the close of day the torches
were lighted at the great fire of the Aonach, and
the pyre ignited. Then, as the column of black
smoke ascended, the assembled multitude turned
their faces to the setting sun, and, raising
their right hands aloft, saluted the departing
God of Day. These rites occupied from
one to three days, according to the rank of the
This custom, strange to say. although gradually dying
out, still continues in soine of the more remote Irish-
speaking districts of the south and west, where the true
tradition of the ancient Cej>6g may be heard at the present
day. A learned writer describing it says: " I once heard
in West Muskerry, in the county of Cork, a dirge of this
kind, excellent in point of both music and words, impro-
vised over the body of a man who had been killed by a fall
from a horse ; it was chanted by a young man, the brother
of the deceased. He first recounted his genealogy ; eulogised
the spotless honour of his family ; described in the tones
of a sweet lullaby his childhood and boyhood; and then,
changing the air suddenly, he spoke of his wrestling and
hurling; his skill at ploughing ; his horsemanship ; his
prowess at a fight in a fair ; his wooing and marriage ; and
ended by suddenly bursting into a loud, piercing, but ex-
quisitely beautiful wail, which was again and again taken
up by the bystanders."
The Second Function.
After the conclusion of the religious cere-
monies, on the fourth day the Ard Righ took his
place before the royal seat at sun-rise. The minor
kings, princes, nobles, chieftains, and all persons
of title to the twenty-sixth degree, together with
the queens and other noble dames, all took their
prescribed places, to the right and left of the
monarch, whilst the assembled people stood in
silence before him. Then the trumpets blared
forth, the High King turned to the east, saluted
the sun, and the assemblage followed suit.
When the ceremony of saluting the sun was
over, the Ard Righ, dressed in his splendid
robes, stood forth and addressed his people.
Having fittingly alluded to " the Illustrious
Dead " whose burial rites they had performed,
he called upon his Arch-Druid, or Chief Ollamh,
to proclaim the Royal Truce for the period of
the Aonach, and promulgate the latest laws
enacted for the realm.
The " Man of Learning " (Ollamh), respond
ing to the king's command, ascended a mound
and read the laws which he had enshrined in
beautiful poetry. This latter was repeated by the
lesser ollamhs, druids and bards distributed
through the multitude, till all present were
familiar with their legal rights and duties, the
history of their country, the glories of their king,
and the war-like deeds of "the Illustrious Dead."
Then another great fire was lighted, and the
second function of the Aonach concluded.
The Third Function.
Next came the Cuiteach Fuait, or third great
function, consisting of the Funeral Games in
honour of the dead ; and it is curious to note how
this ancient custom of rejoicing after a funeral is
still practised in many countries. At military
funerals in almost all parts of the world, as well
as at public funerals generally, after the deceased
is laid to rest, the attendant bands cease playing
their " Dead Marches," and other lugubrious
tunes, and immediately strike up the liveliest airs
in their repertoire. Whence this custom came
can never be determined, since it existed before
history began to be written.
The Cuiteach Fuait, as these funeral games
were called, consisted of athletic, gymnastic and
equestrian contests of various kinds, and in-
cluded running, long-jumping, high-jumping,
hurling, quoit-throwing, spear-casting, sword-
and-shield contests, wrestling, boxing, swim-
ming, horse-racing, chariot-racing, spear or
pole jumping, slinging contests, bow-and-arrow
exhibitions, and, in fact, every sort of contest
exhibiting physical endurance and skill. In
addition, there were literary, musical, oratorical,
and story-telling competitions ; singing and danc-
ing competitions, and tournaments of all
kinds. Also, competitions for goldsmiths, jewel-
lers, and artificers in the precious metals; for
spinners, weavers and dyers ; and the makers of
shields and weapons of war. All were conducted
under specially prescribed conditions; and
articles of guaranteed home-manufacture were
examined and tested with the greatest care.
The Fair " Not a Special Function.
Finally, and more as a mere consequence than
as a special function, the Aonach partook of the
nature of a great market or fair. All kinds of
food, merchandise, live-stock, household utensils,
cloth, arms, and articles of wearing apparel were
on exhibition, as well as for sale. Foreigners
were not excluded from the fairs, and it is
specially recorded that the Greeks, as distin-
guished from our less distant foreign neighbours,
had special " Great Marts " of their own allotted
to them for the sale of precious gems, jewellery,
gold ornaments, and many coloured silken
cloaks. In fact, merchants and dealers of all
kinds availed themselves of these great assem-
blies, and, exhibiting their wares, appear to have
pushed a lively trade.
Such was the character of the ancient AotiAi ,
many of which were held in ancient Ireland long
before Rome was founded. The most important,
however, were Aonach Tailteann in Meath,
Aonach Carman in Wexford, and Aonach
Colmain on the Curragh of Kildare.
The Bye-Laws of the Aonach.
All those great gatherings, it should be
remembered, were regularly organised assem-
blies. They were regulated strictly, and in
detail, by legally prescribed bye-laws, the
transgression of which, in many instances, meant
death. A universal truce was proclaimed in the
High King's name, and woe betide the man who
broke it. No one could be arrested for any
previous offence, nor could anyone be distrained,
detained, or otherwise vexatiously interfered
with, either whilst going to, attending at, or
returning from the Aonach. All feuds, fights,
quarrels and such-like disturbances were strictly
forbidden and severely dealt with ; and all known
criminals were rigorously excluded from both the
games and the assembly. It is interesting to
note that almost identical bye-laws were subse-
quently instituted and enforced at Olympia.
Women Specially Protected.
Under the bye-laws special protection was
afforded to women of all classes. They were not,
as at Olympia (in this respect only did
the latter bye-laws differ from the Irish),
excluded from the assembly, but, on the
contrary, special features were provided to
attract their attendance ; and a curious match-
making mart and marriage ceremony were
established on the grounds. A particular en-
closure with stands was provided for their
exclusive use, and this was called the Cot, or
Cotha, whence comes the French word Coterie.
The romance of true love, and the out-
manoeuvring of unrelenting parents appear to
have been rather prevalent in ancient Erinn in
those days, since we find elopements, during the
truce, most rigorously banned, lest the absence of
parents or guardians at the Aonach might be
availed of by lovers. It was, in fact, deemed
" a heinous offence," and the abduction of a
lady, against her will, brought down the wrath
of the monarch himself on the head of the
offender. Nevertheless, this offence was not
uncommon in Ireland as late as a hundred years
In the foregoing respect, it should be
mentioned, the moral obligations in force in
Ireland, at least during these celebrations, were
strikingly in contrast with those in ancient
Greece, when the Olympian Games were estab-
lished some hundreds of years later. And as to
Ancient Rome, there does not appear to have
been any moral obligations imposed on any-
one at any time ! The Lu di of Ancient Rome
however, did not come into existence until some
eleven hundred years after the institution of
Tailteann, and they degenerated rapidly into a
carnival of licensed debauchery.
THE ORIGIN OF THE TAILTEANN
The story of these ancient Irish games is,
shortly, this : Eochaidh (Aughy) Mac Ere was
a famous monarch of Ireland in the very earliest
days of her history. He wa3, in fact, the last
King of the Firbolgs, and occupied the throne
when the invading colony of Tuatha De Danaan
landed on our shores more than three thousand
eight hundred years ago (1897 B.C.).
Eochaidh advanced from Tara with a host of
chiefs and legions of men to expel the invaders
who were encamped at Moytura, near Cong, in
Co. Mayo, and the king engaged them in battle.
According to St. Colum Cille, this Battle
of Moytura (Magh Tuireadh) was the most
strenuous, if, indeed, not the most amazing,
battle recorded in our whole history. It is
recorded in many ancient MSS. and is referred
to by O' Curry as one of the first authentic events
in our chronological history. In this battle
Eochaidh Mac Ere, the husband of Tailte, was
Irish Intercourse with Spain.
For many years before his death this ancient
Firbolg king had been in constant communi-
cation, and close business relationship, with
Spain, and had married Tailte, the daughter of
Magh Mor, a well-known Spanish King. This
royal princess, in whose honour the Tailteann
Games were originally instituted, was not only
a very beautiful and stately woman, but one of
the most learned and accomplished ladies in the
whole of Europe. She is said to have mastered
every science, art, and knowledge, not only in
Europe, but even in the Eastern World ; and co
have earned and deserved the reputation of being
" the most distinguished druidess in the Western
Tailte came to Ireland as the queen of
Eochaidh Mac Ere more than nineteen centuries
before the Christian era, and took up her abode
in the royal palace of Tara. Here she won the
universal esteem and admiration of "All the men
of Erinn " both for her beauty and wonderful
accomplishments. She instructed the ollamhs
and druids in many arts that redounded to the
honour and glory of her adopted country. Under
her benign influence peace and harmony reigned
throughout the land, until the coming of the De
Some time previous to her husband's death
Queen Tailte had personally selected her own
burial place. It was a beautifully situated spot
on the sun-lit slopes of Caill Cuain, in the midst
of a great rolling forest. At her request the
encircling trees were cut down and removed, and
a large area on the green hillside reserved for her
leacht, or tomb. This spot appeared like a great
glistening emerald, reflecting the sunshine from
within its sombre setting of surrounding forest.
It was truly a beautiful place, and could be seen
from the doors of her favourite palace (at
Teltown) some twelve miles away. In this spot
she had decreed that her Aonach should be held,
her Cuba sung, and her Nosadh celebrated, when
she had passed away.
Her Foster-Son Lugh (Loo).
Fosterage at that time, as in subsequent
years, was customary in royal families in Ireland,
and Tailte had taken a noble youth of tender
years to be fostered at her court. His name was
Lugh, or Lugaidh (Louie), Mac Eithleen, and
although of the invading race who had slain her
husband, she had him brought up most carefully
under her own personal instruction. She paid
particular care and attention to his education, and
taught him every art, science and mystery known
to herself; so that when he afterwards ascended
the throne, he was one of the most learned men
and accomplished warriors in Erinn.
Tailte Laid to Rest.
King Lugh lived at his great palace at Nas
(now Naas, in Co. Kildare), and on the death of
Tailte at her residence near Teltown, in Co.
Meath, he had her interred in her " green circle
on the distant hills." She was buried in royal
state, with impressive druidical rites, on the side
of Caill Cuain (now called Sliabh Caillighe) ; her
Cuba was duly sung, and her Nosadh celebrated,
as she had wished.
AN ANCIENT MANUSCRIPT RECORD.
The foregoing facts are recorded in one of our
oldest writings, from which the following excerpt
is taken as an interesting specimen of ancient
Irish composition :
ON THE ORIGIN OF TAILLTEN.
Taillfcen, why so called? Answer: Tailtiu, daughter
of Madh M6r, the wife of Eochaidh Garbh, son of Duach
Temin ; it was by him the ' Mound of the Strangers ' at
Tara was made ; and she was the foster-mother of Lugaidh,
son of Scol Balbh, and it was she that requested her husband
to cut down Caill Luain, that there should be an Aonach
around her Leacht (tomb) ; and she died on the Kaland of
August after that, and her Guba (lamentations) and her
Nosad (funeral rites and games) were celebrated by Lugadh.
Unde Lug Nosad dicitur." Five hundred years, moreover,
and three thousand before the birth of Christ this occurred ;
and this assemblage was celebrated by every king who oc-
cupied Erinn till Patrick came. And four hundred years
it continued to be celebrated in Taillten from Patrick to
the Black Fair of Donchad, son of Fland, son of Malachy.
Three prohibitions were upon Taillten, namely, to pass
through it without alighting ; to see it over the left
shoulder ; and to throw a cast (of a spear) in it which does
not reach its mark. Unde the Fair of Taillten dicitur, of
which is said the following :
You nobles of the land of comely Conn,
Listen to us for our blessing ;
Till I relate to you the ancient history
Of the origin of the Aonach Tailtiu.
Tailtiu, daughter of renowned Madh M<5r,
Wife of Eochaidh Garbh, son of Duach Ball.
Was thither brought by the Firbolg host
To Caill Cuain, after a co-valiant battle.
* Lug Nosad (i.e.. Loo Nosa), from which Lamtnastule
Caill Cuain, tall and stately were its trees
From Eisgir to Ath n-Droman ;
From Monad Mor, of great adventures ;
From Aill to Ard na Suigi.
From Suigi of the Suighe Sealga,
Whither went the Companies of Druim Dcarg.
From the wood eastward the chariot heads did pass
Into Ath Find from Cuil Clochar.
The confluence of Curach, the head of the river,
The hill of Banba where spears are wont to be.
The hounds of Cairpri were triumphant
Over the borders of Tipra Mungarge.
Many the heroes of the pagans,
The battles, the battalions, the great fires
That were engaged in felling Caill Cuainn,
Delightful was the host of the Firbolgs.
When she had felled the beautiful wood,
And having cleared its roots out of the ground,
Before the end of one year it was Crieg Muigh,
It was a flowery plain adorned with shamrocks.
By Order of the King.
On the death of Tailte a great national Aonach
was ordered by King Lugh to solemnise her
funeral rites and institute the commemoration
games already described ; and the Cuiteach Fuait,
or funeral games, continued to be celebrated as
an annual celebration on the first of August
(Lammastide) for many centuries. Occasionally
they were interrupted for one reason or another,
but as time rolled on they were revived again by
succeeding High Kings and on each occasion with
increased splendour, until at length the Aonac
Tailteann became one of the greatest and most
firmly established institutions in the nation.
A Dress Parade of Kings.
It would be no easy task, indeed, to convey
any true or adequate idea, at the present day, of
the magnitude and magnificence of this ancient
celebration as it continued in its ever-increasing
splendour adown the centuries.
Even at that time it had become famous all
over Europe. Knowledge of it had extended into
ancient Greece, and inspired the institution of
the great Olympian Games at Elis, in the year
Like to our Irish Horse Show, which has
developed from a comparatively small and
insignificant gathering into its present dimen-
sions, attended as it is by visitors from all parts of
the world, as a parade of fashion, the Tailteann
Games ultimately attained gigantic proportions,
and became a veritable full-dress parade
of kings and queens and royal personages,
descending in " grades of honour and nobility
to the twenty-sixth degree." It was attended
by their long retinues of lords and ladies,
chiefs and champions, ollamhs, bards and
poets; men of science and of learning, artificers
and warriors, each bedizened in his or her
particularly distinctive dress of brilliant colours,
as prescribed by law.
A Vision of the Past.
It must be remembered that those were the
days when personal adornment had reached its
climax of superb and royal splendour; when
every king and queen and prince and chief, with
their attendant lieutenants and personages-
in-waiting, presented a veritable pageant of
glory in their costumes and apparel. Their
head-dresses were either crowns, or crescents,
or helmets, of burnished steel, silver, or
gold ; their adorned hair was interwoven
with golden spirals and their plaited locks
were pendant with golden balls : their necks
were encircled with collars and torques
of gold inlaid with sparkling gems and
rich enamels. Their beautiful silken cloaks, in
rich colours of every shade and hue, hung from
their shoulders in flowing folds, and were fastened
and held in position with jewelled clasps and
great brooches of gold and silver and bronze
of exquisite design and workmanship those
beautiful things we now see preserved in the
Royal Irish Academy or the National Museum.
Those were the days when lenas or shirts of noble
men and women were made of many-coloured
Oriental silks, embroidered with threads of silver
and of gold, and their sandals and leg-straps were
of leather adorned with red enamel and "snow-
white bronze" : when every king and chief and
noble warrior appeared in public bearing a
burnished shield, graven with wonderful designs,
and embossed with gold, and wearing swords
with inlaid and richly jewelled hilts : when their
prancing war-steeds were radiantly caparisoned
with gold -embroidered draperies, silver collars
with tiny golden bells, and jewelled bridles of red
Conceive, then, the plains of Royal Meath
crowded for miles with such a magnificent
gathering, and we get some idea of the surpassing
splendour of the ancient Aon 41 . Such were
those great National Assemblies in ancient Erinn,
long before the dawn of Christianity; and such
they continued to be for more than three
thousand years, till the days of Roderick
The Last Celebration.
Its last celebration, by the last King of Ireland
(A.D. 1 1 69), was, if we are to judge it by the
contemporary writers, the greatest and most
impressive of all. We are told :
epeArm ocuf LA tet Ctiuinn -oon cti|\ fin ocuf p
tetfecc A n- gfXAipie ocuf rnApcfluAg 6 tttullAc
AITDI 50 TtluttAc UAillcer."
"On this occasion the Aonach Tailteann was
celebrated by the King of Ireland and the people
of Leath-chuinn (the northern half of Ireland);
and their horses and cavalry were spread out on
the space extending from Mullach Aidi to
As the distance here given from Mullach A idi
(now Lloyd's Hill), west of Kells, to Mullach
Tailteann (now Sliabh na Cailligh), at the Royal
Cemetery of Tailteann is a span of more than
seven miles across a beautiful plain in Co. Meath,
and as King Roderick O'Connor was a rigorous
upholder of the formalities and observances of all
Court and State functions, especially as to apparel
and ornamental jewellery, even to the wearing
of silken hose and golden garter-clasps such as
are worn to-day by the Knights of St. Patrick,
we can easily imagine, then, the radiant splendour
and superb magnificence of the last celebration of
FINN MAcCOOL AT THE AONACH.
The Achilles of Ireland, as we may call the
far-famed Irish champion, Finn MacCool, is
undoubtedly one of the greatest athletic figures
in Irish history. Although tradition and legend
have woven around his exploits a fabulous fairy
mantle of the wildest impossibilities, he was,
nevertheless, a very real and distinguished mili-
tary commander of unequalled prowess. His
real athletic achievements and warlike exploits,
as attested by reliable historical records, were not
by any means humanly impossible, but some of
them, certainly, were such as would put the very
best of our modern athletic champions to shame.
Nor, indeed, is this to be wondered at when we
consider the amazing care and attention paid to
physical culture and development in those days,
more particularly in the higher grades of society.
Even in the lowest grades, amongst the gillie, or
servant class, we find men before whose every-
day duties the great achievements of our modern
" Marathon " champions would pale into insig-
nificance. Those " horse-boys," as they were
called, of olden times, could keep up, on
foot, with their masters on the swiftest horses,
all day long; and repeat the performance each
succeeding day till the horses became ex-
Indeed, it was one of the special obligations
imposed on the lesser kings, the chiefs and the
nobles, by the exacting "Laws of Fosterage,"
to physically train and intellectually develop
every foster-child committed to their care, until
the latter could undergo extremely severe tests in
every athletic exercise with satisfaction and
honour. When compared with these tests our
modern athletic contests are mere child's play.
t3toSi[8& :<0 x;7r; ; ;... :.!;;<;; [v.v.y. ;.
The Fianna Eireann at Tailteann.
In this connection it may be of interest to
recall the fact that Aonach Tailteann was an
established recruiting centre and testing station,
at which Finn MacCool regularly attended with
* See Appendix II., page 69.
his officers, to examine and test all candidates
presenting themselves for commissions in his
famous legion, the Fianna Eireann.
Previous to the establishment of this renowned
military legion, under the command of Finn's
grandfather, there was no regularly organised
army in Ireland to protect and defend the
interests and exact the tributes or taxes of the
Ard Righ. Every chief had his own warriors, and
the provincial and local kings were entitled to call
upon such chiefs to defend their respective local
interests ; whilst on great national issues, involving
the armed defence of the entire nation, all the
lesser kings and chieftains were invited to partici-
pate, but there was no regular national army
until the time of Finn's grandfather.
When Finn MacCool was appointed to the
command of the Fianna Eireann, it consisted of
several battalions of selected warriors located in
the different provinces, under their respective
chiefs, who were all tried Champions of great
war-like prowess. As vacancies occurred in the
ranks, they were filled by examinations and tests
held at Tailteann, Uisneach, Cruachan and other
places, during the games held at those centres,
of which Tailteann was the most important.
Here, under the eyes of the assembled multi-
tude the tests were held. The competitors for
commissions were summoned by a fanfare of
trumpets and were put through their facings under
the critical supervision of the A rd Righ and their
commander, Finn MacCool. To fail was not
deemed any disgrace as few, indeed, could reach
such a high standard of athletic proficiency.
Previous to Finn's appointment to the
command of the legion the only really
difficult test was one involving great dexterity
with shield and sword in personal defence.
The candidate had to defend himself, in real
earnest, from the simultaneous attack of no less
than nine warriors, the aspirant being armed
with spears and sword in addition to his heavy
shield. This test, however, seems to have been
too easy for the new commander, and he accord-
ingly increased the competitor's task by the
addition of ten conditions to the already existing
four. Some of these would, we fear, tax the
athletic accomplishments of our present day
military officers. The fourteen tests were :
1st. No officer of the Fianna shall accept any
fortune with his wife, but shall select her for her
moral conduct and accomplishments.
2nd. No member of the legion shall, under
any circumstances, insult a woman.
3rd. No member shall refuse any person for
trinkets or food.
4th. No member shall turn his back on or
fly from nine champions.
These were the original four conditions, which
were not sufficiently exacting for Finn, who
determined to convert all his soldiers into verit-
able Champions. He accordingly introduced
the following ten additional conditions for
qualifications into his famous band :
5th. No man shall be admitted into the
Fianna, at the great meetings of Uisneach, nor
at the Aonach Tailteann, until his father and his
mother, his tribe and his relatives, give security
that they shall not avenge his death. So that he
shall not expect anyone to avenge him but him-
6th. No man shall be admitted until he is
accomplished and has mastered " The Twelve
Books of Poetry."
7th. No man shall be admitted until, standing
knee-deep in a wide pit, he has shown that he
can protect himself, without receiving a scratch,
with his shield and a hazel stake no longer than a
man's arm, from the attack of nine warriors,
simultaneously hurling their nine spears at him,
from a distance of nine ridges.
8th. No man shall be admitted until, his hair
being plaited, he has been chased, at a starting
distance of one intervening tree, through several
forests with a host of Fianna in pursuit and with
full intent to wound him, and he has proved him-
self competent to escape capture or a wound.
9th. No man shall be received in whose
hands shall tremble a champion's arms.
10th. No man shall be admitted if a single
braid of his hair be loosened out of its plait in his
flight through a tangled wood (brushwood,
1 1th. No man shall be admitted whose foot
shall break a single withered branch in his flight
through a forest.
12th. No man shall be admitted unless he is
able to jump over a branch of a tree as high as
his forehead, and stoop under one as low as his
knee, without delay in his speed, to show his
13th. No man shall be admitted unless he can
pluck a protruding thorn from his heel with his
hand without hindrance to his speed.
14th. No man shall be admitted until he has
first sworn fidelity to the Commander of the
THE MARRIAGE MARKET.
An interesting item included in the pro-
gramme of this ancient assembly was that of
match-making. As an institution, that preroga-
tive of parents has persisted in Ireland even to
the present day. At Tailteann, however,
marriages formed a special feature of the
Aonach, but whether this circumstance was a
particular consequence of the probationary
nature of the " Tailteann Marriage " contract,
or not, it is now impossible to say.
Crowds of youths and maidens from all over
the surrounding districts, " dressed all in their
best," and accompanied by their parents,
attended the Aonach. They were not, however,
permitted, had they not known each other
before, to even make each other's acquaint-
ance; the girls were stowed away in a large
enclosure, and, practically speaking, were com-
pelled to " shut their eyes and open their arms
and take what chance would send them," whilst
the young men, probably, strolled about looking
at the sports and contests.
In the meantime the parents assembled
pretty much as they foregather at the local
public-house to-day after a fair at the sacred
mound in the " Marriage Vale," and made
suitable, or much more likely unsuitable,
matches for their children. The latter, however,
were never consulted, and had to take the
partners selected for them by their natural
guardians. Even some of the delicate duties of
the parents on such occasions, such as arranging
the marriage portions, or " fortunes " as they
are called, were spared them by the laws of the
land. The good old laws of those days left
nothing of that kind to good nature or chance, or
even to the mollifying influence of a naggin of
punch "; they specifically laid down the dowry
in proportion to the means and relative ranks or
grades of the contracting parties.
The matches having been satisfactorily
concluded, the selected couples were led
forthwith to the Tulach-na-Coibche, or " Mound
of the Buying," where the bride-price was duly
handed over and the ceremony celebrated.
Close to the " Marriage Vale " in which the
Tulach-na-Coibche stood, there was, curiously
enough, a pair of mounds or hillocks, upon
which, should any newly- wedded pair regret
their lot within a year and a day, they could,
by going through a curious pagan ceremony,
dissolve their unhappy union.
The two mcunds, or, at least, all that remains
of them, which were known as the " Hills of
Separation," are to be seen there to-day. A
well-known historian and archaeologist who
made a very careful and searching examination
of the district tells us :
"About forty perches north-west of the spot
pointed out as the ' Vale of Marriage,' two
earthen mounds, popularly known as The
Knocfyans, but which tradition says constitute
the 'Hills of Separation,' still exist. The
distance between the bases of the two mounds,
which run parallel, is about ten feet, and the
gradual slope at each end of both affords an
easy means of ascent and descent."
The length of these two mounds is, roughly,
about a hundred yards, and their height about
Such were the twin altars of nuptial renunci-
ation upon which the " incompatibilities of
temper " were adjusted by a curious pagan
ceremony, where the united couple " turned
their backs upon one another " for ever.
The husband and wife, having decided
within the allotted time of " a year and a day "
(no longer period was allowed) to dissolve their
union, met at the mounds, on the occasion of
the next annual Aonach; both ascended the
same mound from opposite ends, at the same
time, and, meeting midway on the summit,
questioned each other as to their resolve to part.
Having mutually agreed, they both turned to the
east, facing the rising sun, saluted it, and
the husband, announcing to the assembled
multitude the reasons for their estrangement,
proclaimed his intention to live with his wife
no longer. Then, turning their backs
towards one another, the unhappy couple
walked to opposite ends of the mound
and descended. Next, the second mound
was ascended in like manner from opposite
ends, and the same ceremony gone through;
but on this occasion the wife and husband
turned to the west, saluted the Couch of
the Sun, and the lady made the announcement
renouncing the partner who had been chosen for
her and declared she would no longer live with
him. Again they turned their backs, descended
in opposite directions, and both had achieved
This was, apparently, an easy, simple and
inexpensive process of divorce, yet, in reality,
it was not, by any means, quite so easy as it
appears. Circumstances were such, and the
moral code so high at that time in pagan Ireland,
that a public renunciation of the obligations of
one of their most sacred ceremonies required a
determination almost heroic, particularly since
the probability was that neither party would
ever succeed in securing another partner. So that
a " Tailteann Marriage " was, in reality, no
mere loose and happy-go-lucky union to be
indulged in at leisure and broken at will.
OTHER FESTIVE ASSEMBLIES IN
There were several other assemblies, of a
somewhat similar nature to Aonach Tailteann,
held in Ireland in olden times. They were, how-
ever, much more restricted and provincial in their
character. They were, indeed, more or less
local gatherings of annual occurrence, at which
local and general laws were proclaimed, games
held, and literary and musical contests adjudi-
Such, however, was not the case with the
assemblies known as Aonach Cruachan, cele-
brated in County Roscommon, and Aonach
Carman, in Wexford. These partook more or
less of the character of National Assemblies, and
were generally attended by the Irish kings
and nobles of all the provinces. There was also
a celebrated gathering known as Aonach
Co/main, to which we shall have to refer.
The site upon which this ancient assembly
was held is now occupied by the town of
Wexford. Like all the other assemblies of this
kind, it originated in the burial there of a famous
personage several centuries before the birth of
The circumstances under which this Aonach
was originally established are interesting in
many ways, not the least of which is the fact,
recorded in several of our oldest manuscripts,
that the Carman in commemoration of whom it
was instituted was a Greek lady who came from
Athens with her three sons. As recorded in the
ancient MS. known as the " Book of Leinster."
It runs thus :
"Carman, why so called? Answer: Three
men who came from Athens, and one woman
with them, i.e., the three sons of Dibad, son of
Dorcha, son of Ainches, i.e., Dian, Dubh, and
Dothur were their names, and Carman was the
name of their mother."
It was believed by the Tuatha De Danaan
people who then inhabited Ireland, that this
Grecian lady and her three sons exercised some
baneful influence in the country which militated
against the peace and prosperity of the nation.
The people, therefore, determining to put an end
to the danger once for all, expelled the sons,
but not their mother. As the ancient authority
tells us :
1. "Listen, O Lagenians of the monuments!
Ye truth-upholding hosts,
Until you get from me, from every source,
The pleasant history of the far-famed
2. Carman, the field of a splendid fair,
With a widespread, unobstructed green
The hosts who came to celebrate it
On it they contested their noble races.
3. The renowned field is the cemetery of kings,
The dearly loved of noble grades ;
There are many meeting mounds,
For their ever loved ancestral hosts.
4. To mourn for queens and for kings,
To denounce aggression and tyranny,
Often were the fair hosts in autumn
Upon the smooth brow of noble old Carman.
5. Was it men, or was it a man of great
Or was it a woman of violent jealousy,
Gave the name, without the merit of noble
Bestowed the true name of beautiful Car-
6. It was not men, and it was not a fierce man,
But a single woman, fierce, rapacious,
Great her rustling and her tramp,
From whom Carman received its first name.
7. Carman, the wife of the fierce Mac Dibad,
Son of Dorcha, of legions and choice hospi-
The son of Ancges, of rich rewards,
The renowned hero of many battles.
8. They sought not the profits of industry,
Through ardent love of noble Banba,
For they were at all times toilers in the
The sons of Mac Dibad and their mother.
9. At length they westward came,
Dian and Dubh and Dothur,
From delightful Athens westward,
And Carman their mother.
10. They used to destroy upon the Tuatha De
The wicked malignant race
The produce of every land unto the shore;
It was a great, an oppressive evil.
1 1 . Carman by all-powerful spells
Destroyed every growing productive fruit,
After each unlawful art being tried
By the sons, with violence, with injustice.
12. Soon as the Tuatha De perceived
What deprived them of their summer bloom,
For every evil deed which they wrought,
They hurled an equal deed upon them.
13. Critenbel, he was a Sab,
And Lug Laibech, son of Cachir;
Becuille in every field entangled them
And Ai, the son of Ollam.
14. They said to them when they arrive
The four warriors of equal valour
Here is a woman instead of your mother,
Three men for your three brothers.
15. Death to ye we choose not, nor desire,
It is neither our pleasure nor free choice ;
Assign with openness a proper pledge,
And depart out of Eriu each of you three.
16. Those men then from us departed
They were expelled with great difficulty;
Though a woman of theirs they left there
Carman, alive in her narrow cell.
17. Every oath from which there is no release
Sea, fire, heaven, and the fair-faced earth
That in power or weakness they never would
As long as the sea encircled Eriu.
18. Carman, who gave death and battles,
Once so destructive with her spells,
Received her fate, as she so well deserved,
Among the oaks of these firm mounds.
19. Hither came to celebrate her funeral rites,
To lament her, to inaugurate her Guba,
The Tuatha De, upon the noble, beautiful
This was the first regular Aonach Carman.
20. The grave of Carman, by whom was it dug?
Will you leam, or do you know?
According to all our beloved forefathers
It was Bre, son of Eladan. Listen!"
The ancient historical poem from which the
foregoing stanzas are taken, contains seventy-
nine such verses, giving full and accurate details
over every circumstance associated with Aonach
Carman. It enumerates the royal personages,
and their retinues, etc., who attended this
great Fair every third year, together with an
account of all the various contests, literary,
musical, athletic, horse-racing, etc., as well as
the vast numbers of people, steeds, chariots,
chieftains, champions and athletes in attendance.
Unfortunately, it is much too long to quote in full.
As a further example of the detailed historic
account, however, we include the following
verses giving a list of some of those who attended
the celebration :
37." Sixteen kings to me have been recorded,
By every Sai, and profound historian,
From Carman of the branchy harbours,
Who brought hosts into the noble Aonach.
38. Eight from the populous Dodder
Renowned hosts ever to be boasted of
They celebrated the regular fair of Carman
With pomp, and with bright arms.
39. Twelve, without an error in the counting,
Of festive fairs I acknowledge
To the fierce champion of valour
Of the regal race of the noble Maistiu."
Any person breaking the Bye-Laws during
the Aonach was severely dealt with, as we are
56." Whoever transgresses the law of the
Which Benen with accuracy indelibly
Cannot be spared on family composition,
But he must die for his transgression."
And again, the nature of the competitions :
57." These are the many great privileges
Trumpets, harps, wide-mouthed horns,
Cuisig, timpanists without weariness,
Poets and petty rhymesters.
58. Fenian tales of Find an untiring entertain-
Destructions, cattle-preys, courtships,
Inscribed tablets, and books of trees,
Satires and sharp-edged runes;
59. Proverbs, maxims, royal precepts
And the truthful instruction of Fithal,
Occult poetry, topographical etymologies,
The precepts of Cairpri, and of Cormac;
60. The Fessa, with the great Feis of Tara
Fairs, with the Aonach of Emania,
Annals there are verified,
Every division into which Eriu was divided.
61. The history of the household of Tara not
The knowledge of every territory in Eriu,
The history of the women of illustrious
Of Courts, Prohibitions, Conquests.
62. The noble testament of Cathair the Great
To his descendants, to direct the steps of
Each one sits in his lawful place
So that all attend to them and listen. Listen !
63. Pipes, fiddles, chainmen,
Castanette-players and tube players,
A crowd of babbling painted masks,
Roarers and loud bellowers.
64. They all exert their utmost powers
For the magnanimous monarch of the
Until the noble king, in proper measure,
Upon each art its rightful meed."
Like that of Tailteann this Aonach became
an institution of wide repute throughout the
Europe of those days. It was attended by kings
and nobles and all classes, from all parts of
Ireland, and had a market for the rare and costly
products of the East.
The records dealing with this Aonach all
refer to its origin as having been instituted to
perpetuate the memory of Carman, the Greek
lady from Athens, and state that many Greek
merchants attended the assembly, centuries
before the beginning of the Christian era.
THE CURRAGH RACES.
In olden times in fact, long before the period
of which we have any historical knowledge it
would seem that horse-racing must have been a
popular pastime in Ireland.
Standing on the very edge of nebulous
historic time, and listening to the voice of
Tradition as it floats in to us from the uncharted
ocean of the past, its sweetest songs are full of
racing steeds and marvellous riders, contesting
for wonderful trophies of unheard of beauty.
Even our very oldest reliable records are full
of glowing accounts of this glorious " pastime of
kings," all of which testimony goes to prove that
racing in Ireland is "as old as the hills."
In pagan times it became part of the highest
conception of the pleasures of Tir-na-n-Oge, or
the Land of Eternal Youth. Some of our oldest
traditional tales, in recounting the joys of that
" Land beyond the Grave," tell us that the spirits
dwelling there race their wonderful steeds along
the shore on the Plain of Sports, in contests
with golden currachs on the silver sea.
The traditional love for horse-racing may
account for this popular sport continuing its
unbroken record at the Curragh since its original
institution there at the Aonach Colmain, long be-
fore the birth of Christ. At what date this Aonach
was originally established is not quite clear, but
our ancient records (Bruden Da Derga) tell us
that Conari, King of Ireland in the first century
before Christ, once went with four chariots to
the Cluichi, or Games, at the Cuirrech Life (the
Curragh of the Liffey or Kildare).
In olden times this famous race-course was
known as the " Curragh of the Liffey," and it
was then, as it is to-day, the most celebrated
race meeting in Ireland. The very word Cuir-
reach itself, according to the ancient Glossary oj
Cormac of Cashel, signifies race-course.
Aonach Colmain was held as an annual
assembly on the Curragh, and it was attended
then, as it is now, by people from all parts of
Ireland. The races were always formally opened
by the king, or one of the princes of Leinster
acting on behalf of the monarch, and they usually
lasted for several days. The king's palace was
built at Knockaulin on the edge of the
race-course, and the Ard Righ himself dis-
tributed the prizes to the winners.
Chariot Races at the Curragh.
Some of the most picturesque and exciting
events in the programme of sports at these great
gatherings was the Chariot Races. These
contests, which were the oldest of their kind in
Europe, were conducted under strict rules,
sometimes with two horses, sometimes with four,
and the owners sat in their chariots beside their
standing charioteers, who were the most daring
and reckless drivers, but capable of accomplishing
wonderful achievements with their splendid
The charioteers, dressed in their gaudy
costumes with short cloaks, or capes, of different
colours, resembling modern Spanish toreadors,
stood erect behind their foaming steeds, and held
them in with elaborately decorated reins, studded
with red enamel, silver, and gold discs. The pace
was furious, and, as they dashed along the
course, wheel to wheel, and neck-and-neck with
their competitors, clouds of foam and dust rose
into the air and almost hid them from view. It
must have been a glorious sight to see a Colmain
Chariot Race !
But all other tastes were equally well catered
for. The horse-racing was pretty much as it is
to-day, but no saddles were used, and a single
rein passing back between the horse's ears
sufficed, with a guiding whip, to pilot them on
There were, also, intellectual competitions
which, though less exciting, were none the less
keenly contested. The poets and musicians and
story-tellers had their programme here as at
Tailteann and Carman, and recited or played
their compositions in public. The outstanding
features of these competitions were the odes,
epics, and exciting rhapsodies of the poets;
the story-tellers' tales of war-like deeds, adven-
tures and courtships; and the marvellous, if,
indeed, not magical, compositions of the bards,
whose musical strains produced laughter or tears
or slumber, as the performer wished.
" They all exerted their utmost powers
For the magnanimous Righ Berba
Until the noble king, in proper measure,
Upon each art its rightful meed."
Such were the famous assemblies of ancient
Eire. May we live to see them renewed once
more in modern Ireland !
THE IRISH ORIGIN OF THE OLYMPIC
It is not generally known, and will, no doubt,
surprise many of our otherwise enlightened
readers to learn that the far-famed Olympic
Games of Ancient Greece drew the inspiration
from the still much more ancient games in Ire-
land. The Hellenic games may, indeed, be
traced almost directly to the great national
celebrations of Tailteann, Carman and Colmain,
not only as their source of origin, but as their
models for development. So much so, in fact,
that not merely the idea of the games, but the
actual games themselves, their sequence at the
festivities, the rules under which the various con-
tests were held, and even the very bye-laws,
regulating the conduct of the people before,
during, and immediately after the celebrations,
were all borrowed en masse from those already
in operation in this country. As Mommsen tells
us, it falls to the lot of most nations, in the early
stages of their development to be taught and
trained by some rival sister nation ; so it fell to the
lot of Greece to acquire a knowledge of the man-
ners, customs, and social life generally of Ancient
In the pre-heroic period of Greece her people
were practically composed of two classes: the
pastoral inhabitants occupying the interior,
mountainous portion of the country, and the
commercial or seafaring community, who
inhabited the towns and cities on the low-lying
sea-board. The latter were the greatest naviga-
tors, and most adventurous people in Europe in
those days, and their trading vessels left no part
of the Western World unvisited in search of
commerce. Hence it is we find frequent histori-
cal references to Greek traders as having visited
Ireland, and established special marts at the
various Aonaigh in this country, where, we are
told, they disposed of their golden ornaments,
jewels, and many -coloured silken cloaks.
That there was a close and even intimate
intercourse between the two countries even
before the great Olympic Games were established
there can be no doubt. In several of our ancient
historical MSS. documents of great antiquity
still preserved in the libraries of Trinity College
and the Royal Irish Academy, in Dublin, as well
as in various libraries on the Continent there
are numerous references to the Greeks and their
trading in Ireland. For example :
JIT), mApSAT) t>6O
mop tiA n-5^11 n-
1 m-bi-o op if -Apt) 6CAC."
" Three markets in that auspicious country :
A market of food, a market of live stock,
And a great market of the foreign Greeks
Where gold and noble clothes were wont to
The ancient poem from which the foregoing
is taken was written in explanation of the
origin of Aonach Carman (now Wexford). It
tells us how that celebrated assembly, with all its
ceremonies and games, was instituted in com-
memoration of a distinguished Greek lady who,
with her three sons, " From delightful Athens
westward came," at a period anterior to the date
given by Strabo as that of the institution of the
Olympic Games. So we have it very clearly
established that not only did distinguished
personages come to Ireland from Greece at that
very remote period in our history, but that enter-
prising merchants and traders from that distant
land were sufficiently familiar with our country
to visit it regularly for the express purpose of
disposing of their precious wares at our great
It is through the medium of such travellers
and seafaring communities that widely separated
nations have, at all times, acquired a knowledge
of the culture and borrowed the customs of one
another; and it was thus, undoubtedly, that the
Greeks became acquainted with the games
associated with the burial of the " Illustrious
Dead " in Ancient Ireland.
If further proof were needed, we have it in the
games themselves. We find all the Irish games,
even to hurling, copied and reproduced under
similar conditions at the Hellenic celebrations;
at least, all with the remarkable exception of the
equestrian games, which were not only not
popular in Greece, but were actually disliked by
the people. In fact, anything with a horse in it
was, at that early period, practically taboo to
them ; and from the very earliest times the horse
was the bogey or hobgoblin of the Greeks. Even
in Homer's famous description of the chariot race
at the funeral games of Patroclus, a certain dread
of the beautiful steeds may be detected.
Hence it was from this dread of horses, no
doubt, that the chariot-racing, which played so
prominent a part in the Irish games, were
entirely omitted from the early Olympic Games ;
and, indeed, were not introduced for some
centuries. So, also, with the horse-racing,
which was not included in the Olympic
programme until much later still and never
So that with the exception of the equestrian
items, the games and other ceremonies included
in the celebrations were, during the earliest
period, practically identical at both the Tailteann
and the Olympic festivities, which conclusively
shows that the latter were clearly borrowed
from their Irish prototypes.
THE MARATHON RACE.
One of the most interesting events in modern
athletics is the Marathon Race. It is a test of
three of the highest athletic attributes, viz.,
Speed, Endurance, arid Judgment, any two of
which, without the third, will not enable a
competitor to achieve success.
This event is of comparatively recent intro-
duction in the athletic world, having originated
in Athens at the first of the modern Ofympic
Games in 1896; and since those International
Games only occur every four years, there have
been but six Marathon Races held up to the
present, viz. :
1896, at Athens; 1900, at Paris; 1904, at St.
Louis; 1908, at London; 1912, at Stockholm;
1916, (none); 1920, at Antwerp.
There was no Olympiad held in 1916 in conse-
quence of the war.
The Marathon Race derives its classic
name, as most people are no doubt aware,
from a remarkable incident associated with
the historic battle of Marathon. This famous
battle was fought in Greece, on the plain from
which it takes its name, between the Greeks and
Persians, some 490 years before the birth of
The Persians, encouraged by numerous
previous successes, had contemplated^ and had
actually undertaken, the wholesale invasion of
Europe, and had reached Greece in their onward
march. The Greeks realised the danger, and,
although outnumbered by ten to one, they
assembled their united forces under Miltiades,
and engaged the Persians in what was, perhaps,
one of the most momentous battles in Europe.
They not only gained the victory, but inflicted
such a crushing defeat on the invading Oriental
hordes that their power was completely broken,
and their designs effectually frustrated for ever.
At that time mounted couriers were not used
to carry despatches as they are to-day; and
military leaders were always accompanied by a
corps of well-trained runners to carry their
messages. Hence, according to custom, a runner
was immediately despatched from Marathon to
Athens with news of the great victory.
The courier, aroused to enthusiasm by the
wonderful, and anxiously waited for tidings he
bore, ran all the way at top speed, and dropped
dead on its delivery. It is in commemoration of
this historic run that the Marathon Race derives
The distance of the Marathon Race is 42
kilometres, or about 26 statute miles, but it was
not the distance that proved too much for the
ill-fated courier, it was his excessive speed.
In fact, fifty, or a hundred, or even two hun-
dred miles, was not anything unusual for an army
courier in those days. The Peichs, or Persian
couriers of the Turkish sultans, often ran from
Constantinople to Adrianople and back, at
distance of some 220 miles, in two days and
nights, without any untoward effects, and it is
interesting to note that they carried silver beads
in their mouths to allay their thirst during their
As stated above, the Marathon Race wa*
instituted by the Greeks when the first modern
Olympic Games were held at Athens. It was
a most appropriate tribute in commemoration of
a distinguished fellow-countryman, and it is no
less worthy of note that on this occasion also the
victorious competitor was a Greek peasant.
Dorando Pietri's Failure.
As an interesting instance of how speed and
endurance, uncontrolled by good judgment, failed
to win the coveted trophy, the Marathon contest
held in connection with the Olympic Games in
London in 1908 may be mentioned. It created
an immense sensation at the time, and excited
the admiration and sympathy of the world.
The race was from Windsor to the Stadium
grounds in the Franco-British Exhibition in
London, and the first competitor to arrive was an
Italian named Dorando Pietri. His condition of
physical collapse, however, was such that,
appearing to be on the point of death, he had to
be assisted over the last few yards of the course.
It was hard luck, but according to the conditions
he was disqualified, and J. Hayes, an American,
was adjudged the winner. A special prize was,
however, presented to Dorando Pietri by Queen
Alexandra, with universal approval.
THE SPORT RECORDS OF THE WORLD;
Distance, 310 yards. Major Straker (Eng-
Billiards (B.C.C. Rules).
2,196 (unfinished). G. Gray (London), March
Cradle Cannon, 499,135. T. Reece, 3rd
June to 6th July, 1907.
Highest Innings : 918 : N.S.W. v. Australia
(Sydney), June 5th 9th, 1901.
Individual Scores (First Class) : 424. A. C.
MacLaren (Taunton), July 16th, 1895.
Ball Throw: 140 yards. R. Percival (Dur-
ham, Sands Australia), Easter Monday, 1884,
One Hour : Push-bike motor (paced), 63
miles 256 yards. P. Guignard (Munich), July
One Mile : Standing start (unpaced). 2 min-
utes 3 seconds. Vic. Johnson (Crystal Palace),
156 feet 11^ inches. A. Taipale (Finland)
Madgeburg July 20th, 1913.
189 feet 6^ inches. P. Ryan (U.S.A.),
August 1 7th, 1913.
One Mile : 1 minute 33 seconds. "Caiman"
(Lingfield), July 13th, 1900.
One Mile : 1 minute 58 seconds. " Uhlan
Lexington" (U.S.A.), October 9th, 1912.
120 Yards: 14| seconds. E. J. Thomson
(Philadelphia, U.S.A.), May 29th, 1920.
216 feet 3 inches. J. Myrra (Finland).
High Jump : 6 feet 7-g inches. E. Beeson
(California), May 2nd, 1914.
Long Jump : 25 feet 3 inches. E. Gourdin
(Harvard, U.S.A.), July, 1921.
Pole Jump: 13 feet 5 inches. F. K. Foss
(Antwerp}, August 20th, 1920.
One Mile: 35| seconds. J. A. MacNeal
(Omaha, U.S.A.), October 4th, 1914.
One Hour : 88 miles 350 yards. L. Humiston
(Los Angelos, U.S.A.), January 7th, 1912.
One Mile : 29.0! seconds. Beuz (Brooklandsi
January 22nd, 1914.
Fijty Miles : 27 minutes 2.33 seconds. Talbot,
October 27th, 1913.
One Hour : 1 12 miles 1 ,689 yards. De Palma
(Sheepshead Bay, U.S.A.), November 16th,
100 Yards: 9% seconds. J. Donaldson
(Johannesburg), February 12th, 1910.
.Running (continued) :
220 Yards: 2H seconds. W. R. Applegate
^England), B. J. Wefers, R. C. Craig, D. F. Lip-
pincott, H. P. Drew and G. Parker (all U.S.A.).
440 Yards : 47 seconds. M. W. Long (Gut-
tenberg, New Jersey), October 4th, 1900.
86$ Yards : 1 minute 52| seconds. J. E.
Meredith (Philadelphia), May 13th, 1916.
One Mile: 4 minutes 12-f seconds. N. S.
Tober (Cambridge), July 16th, 1916.
Four Miles : 19 minutes 231 seconds. A.
Shrubb (Glasgow), June 13th, 1904.
Ten Miles: 50 minutes 40 5 second*. A.
Shrubb (Glasgow), November 5th, 1904.
One Hour: 11 miles 1.442 yards. J. Bouin
(France), Stockholm, July 6th, 1913, Marathon.
500 Metres : 43? seconds. O. Mathieson
(Davos), January 17th, 1914.
1,000 Metres: 1 minute 34* seconds. O.
Mathieson (Davos), January 31st, 1909.
One Mile : 2 minutes 27 seconds. F. W.
Dix (Cowbit), February 6th, 1912.
50 Yards : 23 f seconds. D. Kahanamoku
;(San Francisco), 1916.
Swimming (continued) :
WO Yards : 53 seconds. D. Kahanamoku
(Honolulu), September 5th, 1917.
220 Yards : 2 minutes 21 f seconds. N. Ross
(San Francisco), November 26th, 1916.
440 Yards : 5 minutes 14^ seconds. N. Ross
(Los Angelos), October 9th, 1919.
One Mile : 23 minutes 16| seconds. B. B.
Kiernan (Sydney, N.S.W.).
One Mile : 6 minutes 22 seconds. G. Cum-
mings (Manchester), August 4th, 1913.
Seven Miles : 50 minutes 44f seconds. G.
Goulding (N. Brunswick, U.S.A.), October 23rd,
One Hour : 8 miles 438 yards. G. E. Larner,,
September 30th, 1905.
Twelve Hours : 73 miles 145 yards. E. C_
Morton, May 2nd, 1914.
16 Ibs. : 51 feet. R. W. Rose (U.S.A.), San
Francisco, August 21st, 1909.
At Billiards. T. Newman.
At Boxing. Jack Dempsey (U.S.A.).
At Chess. Senor Capablanca (World).
At Cricket (Batting). P. Mead.
At. Cricket (Bowling). E. R. Wilson.
At Cycling. Moeskops (Holland).
At Go/f. Jock Hutchison (U.S.A.).
At Hammer Throwing. P. Ryan (U.S.A.).
At Hurdle Racing. E. J. Thompson (Can-
At Jumping (High). R. W. Landon
At Lawn Tennis. W. T. Tilden (U.S.A.).
At Rifle Shooting. Sergeant Cunningham,
At Running (WO Yards). R. W. Applegate
At Running (/ Mile). A. G. Hill (England)
At Sculling. E. Barry (England).
At Seating. O. Mathieson (Norway).
At Swimming. N. Ross (U.S.A.).
At Walking. Frigerio (Italy).
University of California
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